Monday, March 2, 2015

Gov. LePage calls EPA decision on Maine tribal waters "outrageous"

In today's Portland Press Herald, I wrote about the latest flashpoint between Maine's Indian tribes and the state's government who are at odds on many fronts over sovereignty issues.

The latest news is that Governor Paul LePage has sent a fiery and defiant letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, calling a recent order to improve water quality in tribal waters "outrageous" and charging it with vindictive behavior toward the state. It's also revealed that the tribes -- already at odds with the state over saltwater fishing, the applicaibility of the federal Violence Against Women Act to their territories, and other issues -- have called on Congress to intervene.

Here's a taste:

“Ultimately this is not about the water quality; this is just a platform to try to undermine the settlement acts,” said Manahan, a partner at Pierce Atwood who has been tangling with the Penobscots for 25 years on behalf of paper companies, dam owners and others. “I don’t think the tribes frankly care if there are job losses to municipalities and industries in Maine, and I don’t think EPA does either.”

Manahan described potentially dire economic consequences in the Penobscot River valley if more stringent standards are adopted to meet the EPA’s order: municipalities shelling out millions to improve wastewater treatment and having to raise property taxes to pay for it, and industrial users having to scale back production or buy new equipment. “For companies, this could result in job layoffs or cost increases that might cause them to make decisions to move elsewhere,” he said.

But the EPA says that’s not true, and that municipalities and most industrial dischargers on the river will almost certainly be unaffected by the tighter standards. “Based on the discharge information we’ve seen for these facilities, the vast majority won’t have to be concerned about most of these standards,” said Ken Moraff, director of ecosystem protection at EPA’s New England office in Boston. “We are not aware of any dischargers that are fundamentally in conflict with the sustenance fishing use.”
For additional background on the history of Maine's tribal-state relations, consider "Unsettled", the 31-part Press Herald series on the Passamaquoddy, which appeared in the paper last summer. (It's also available as an e-book here.)

[Update, 3/22/15: Maine will sue EPA over the issue.]

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